Used for centuries in Arabian, Greek, and Indian medicine (Unani, Siddha, and Ayurveda), fenugreek contains potent antioxidants that have beneficial effects on the chemistry of the liver and pancreas. The herb also is used to ease digestive tract disorders and to enlarge the breasts. Historically, it was used to lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels and for respiratory ailments and was applied topically for local inflammation, ulcers, and eczema. Although nursing mothers are sometimes told to take it to increase milk production, there is no indication that it promotes lactation.
Chinese medicine uses the herb for treating pain in the lower abdomen, erectile dysfunction (ED), and hernia. Ayurvedic medicine uses it for fever, vomiting, anorexia, coughs, bronchitis, and colitis. It is approved by the German Commission E for loss of appetite (used internally) and inflammation of the skin (used externally as a poultice).
Bird’s foot; Greek hayseed; Methi. Fenugrec, fenugreek, Sénegré, trigonelle (French); Ziegenkraut, Bockshornklee, Griechisch Heu (German); fieno greco (Italian); alholva, fenogreco (Spanish); bockhornsklöver (Swedish); hu lu ba (Chinese); Abish (Amharic); Hulba, Hilbeh (Arabic; Chaiman (Armenian); Mithiguti (Assami); Methi (Bengali); Penantazi (Burmese); Fenegriek (Dutch); Fenugreko (Esperanto); Kreeka lambalääts (Estonian); Shambelilé (Farsi); Sarviapila (Finnish); methro, Methini (Gujrati); Methi (seeds), Kasoori methi, Sag methi (leaves) (Hindi); Görögszéna (Hungarian); Mente (Kannada); Halba (Malay); Venthiam (Malayalam); Methi (Marathi); Bukkehornkløver (Norwegian); Shabaliidag (Pahlawi); Kozieradka pospolita (Polish); Feno-grego (Portuguese); Methri (Punjabi); Pazhitnik grecheskiy, Sambala (Russian); Methika (Sanskrit);
Ancient Egyptians ate it as a vegetable, using the seeds to make incense and to embalm mummies. They also roasted the seeds as a coffee as well as using it medicinally. It had little importance for cooking, but it was cultivated later on a reasonably large scale as a medicine.
Benedictine monks introduced the plant to central Europe, and Charlemagne promoted it in the ninth century. It was grown in England in the 16th century. Long been a favourite of the Arabs and it was studied at the School of Salerno by Arabic physicians. Avicenna prescribed it for diabetes, a use it retains to this day, and it is now also used to lower blood pressure, in the oral contraceptive pill and in veterinary medicine.
Prefers full sun and fertile, well-drained, alkaline soil. Sow thickly in rows 9 inches apart in spring for the main crop and throughout the summer for young salad leaves. Use 15-22 kg seed per hectare. Thin to 4 inches apart; difficult to transplant. Pick young leaves as needed. Cut the whole plant in autumn.
Demulcent, emollient, galactagogue, hypoglycaemic, laxative, nutritive, wound-healing
Anorexia, convalescence, diabetes mellitus, gastritis, promote lactation
Compounds in fenugreek may help with blood sugar control. Mucilages (25 to 45 percent of the seeds) released from the herb coat the lining of the intestines and keep the stomach from emptying quickly, with the result that glucose enters the bloodstream more slowly after a meal. In humans, fenugreek increases the number of insulin binding sites, which enhances glucose utilisation. Fenugreek also contains compounds that help muscle tissue and the liver respond better to insulin, acting like glimepiride (Amaryl) and the “glitazone” drugs, such as rosiglitazone (Avandia). Clinical studies in India have found that relatively large doses of fenugreek seeds (25 grams, or nearly an ounce per day) as an ingredient in bread for fifteen days resulted in a lower blood glucose response to a glucose tolerance test in people with type 2 diabetes. Overall, blood sugar levels were 11 percent lower when fenugreek was consumed compared to when it wasn’t.
Other Indian clinical studies have found that larger doses of fenugreek seeds, 100 grams (nearly 4 ounces) per day, have even more dramatic effects in people with type 1 diabetes. In one study, fenugreek treatment reduced the blood glucose levels in response to a glucose tolerance test and the excretion of glucose via the urine by 54 percent. This study also found that fenugreek lowered levels of low-density lipoprotein, (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol without affecting high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or “good”) cholesterol.
- A weak and transient hypoglycemic effect was observed in 50% of patients with diabetes treated orally with 500 mg of trigonelline during fasting. Administration of trigonelline at doses of 500 mg up to three times per day for 5 days did not decrease diurnal blood sugar levels.
- Fenugreek (5 g/day) administered to healthy volunteers for 3 months did not affect blood sugar levels compared with baseline values either after fasting or after meals.
- In healthy volunteers, a single dose of whole fenugreek seed (25 g) prevented the increase in blood glucose following glucose intake and decreased blood insulin levels. The response was most significant in volunteers treated with whole seed, followed by the gum isolate, defatted seed, and cooked seed. Degummed seeds and cooked leaves showed no activity. Whole seed, defatted seed, and gum isolate were rich in galactomannan.
- In Germany, the Commission E supports using fenugreek to treat loss of appetite. Externally, a decoction of fenugreek seed can be used for local inflammation.
Dosage (Divided Daily)
• Dried Powder: 2,000 – 9,000mg
• Tincture: 2 – 4.5 mL (1:2)
None expected for internal use if fenugreek is taken within the recommended dose range. Mild gastrointestinal upset has been recorded in a small percentage of patients during a clinical trial using high doses of fenugreek seed (25 g/day).
Excessive consumption of fenugreek can lead to a curry-like body odour and may be responsible for the incorrect diagnosis of maple syrup urine disease.
Frequent consumption of (dietary) fenugreek has been associated with anaemia in Ethiopian children resulting from the inhibition of iron absorption.
Interactions with other drugs
A large or frequent dose of fenugreek may inhibit iron absorption
Balch, P. A., & Bell, S. J. (2012). Prescription for herbal healing (2nd ed.). New York, N.Y.: Avery.
- Bone, K. (2003). A clinical guide to blending liquid herbs: herbal formulations for the individual patient. St. Louis, MI: Churchill Livingstone.
- Herbalpedia (2013)
- Mars, B. (2007). The desktop guide to herbal medicine: the ultimate multidisciplinary reference to the amazing realm of healing plants, in a quick-study, one-stop guide. Laguna Beach, CA: Basic Health Pub.
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